Formed by three Austrian immigrants and one youthful Londoner, the Amadeus Quartet came to prominence in postwar England. It excelled in the Classical repertoire, and its recordings in the 1950s were important contributions to the growing body of chamber music on the newly introduced LP. The process of recording on tape was a major improvement over the start-and-stop 78 rpm methods, and these clean and skillfully edited masters hold up quite well in the digital transfer. This seven-disc set follows Deutsche Grammophon's 2003 reissue of the quartet's early Mozart recordings, and covers works by Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, thus giving a fuller representation of the group's prodigious output for Westminster and DG.
These early performances by the greatest string quartet of the 20th century are absolutely gorgeous. They may not be quite as virtuosic as the Amadeus' later stero recordings of Mozart's quartets and quintets, but they are more mellow and lyrical. Combining expert musicianship, technical mastery, gorgeous sound, vivacity, and unbelievably tight ensemble playing, the Amadeus Quartet brings out the beauty of every melodic line of Mozart's ingenious compositions and does justice to each note and ornament.
The untimely death of Peter Schidlof on 15 August 1987 resulted not only in the loss of a great violist: it also marked the end of an era in which, for almost 40 years, the Amadeus Quartet was one of the leading chamber music ensembles in the world. Together in the same formation for a longer time than any other string quartet, the four Amadeus members - Norbert Brainin, Siegmund Nissel, Peter Schidlof and Martin Lovett - were close both as musical colleagues and as friends in private life; and this artistic "marriage", born out of a special fate which brought the Amadeus together after the War, could not survive the loss of one of its partners. They had always agreed that if any member could no longer play, for whatever reason, the Quartet would not continue; and the cellist Martin Lovett expressed what his colleagues clearly fell when he said, "Peter is simply irreplaceable". Indeed, it would be impossible for anyone to take his place without completely changing the sound and character of the ensemble. The quality of their playing was marked by a unique sonority and homogeneity, which derived from a common "schooling" with the great violinist and teacher Max Postal. It had a flexibility that could shape a phrase for its full expressive, emotional effect: yet the members of the quartet each projected very individual and contrasting musical personalities.
The String Quartet No. 1 in D major, Opus 11, was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's first completed string quartet of three string quartets, published during his lifetime. (An earlier attempt had been abandoned after the first movement had been completed.) Composed in February 1871, it was premiered in Moscow on 16/28 March 1871 by four members of the Russian Musical Society: Ferdinand Laub and Ludvig Minkus, violins; Pryanishnikov, viola; and Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, cello.
Franz Liszt, writing about Grieg's String Quartet No 1, declared: 'It is long time since I have encountered a new composition, especially a string quartet, which has intrigued me as greatly as this distinctive and admirable work by Grieg'. Grieg himself said that his quartet '… aims at breadth; to soar, and above all at a vigorous sound for the instruments for which it is written.' In 1891, Edvard Grieg started his second quartet, but sadly lacked inspiration and time to finish the last two movements. Levon Chilingirian of the Chilingirian Quartet has studied the original manuscripts of the first two movements (which have many clarifying instructions added by Julius Röntgen in preparation for their printing by C F Peters in 1908) and prepared the third and fourth movements especially for this recording. This is therefore a first recording of the completed String Quartet No 2.
… In 1983 the Grand Prix Academy Charles Cross was received in Paris for the recording of Martinů's Quartet Nos. 4 and 6. The Panocha Quartet places particular emphasis on Czech music especially the works of Smetana, Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů. Its extensive repertoire also included many Viennese classics, notably many of the quartets of Haydn…
The quartets, like any other composition of the Titan of Bonn, are blessed with numerous recordings. Integrals or individual recordings they are the measure of artistic maturity and competence for all enssembles that thrive for greatness. There are, as always, some names that one usually meets when looking for above average interpretations: Emerson Quartett, Quartetto Italiano, Julliard Quartett, or Amadeus Quartett. All of them are important names and their interpretations have more qualities than weak points. Yet, my favorite is by far Alban Berg Quartett.